September 11, 2001: the Pearl Harbor of my generation. I was nine when the attacks happened, a third-grader at Pueblo West Elementary. I had left the room during a snack break and when I returned my teacher was talking about how something “had happened.” That’s the only part I caught her say. Nobody was entirely sure what was going on, but we understood that our country was under attack. Those were the only details I knew until later that night.
When my dad picked me up from school and we returned home, I sat on his bed and watched the news alongside him, trying to comprehend his reaction. I still didn’t understand the motives behind the images on the television. Being nine, I had no concept of evil in the world. I remember asking my dad what happened and not hearing his response because I was so absorbed in the images of the World Trade Center flaming and then collapsing.
Today, when I hear audio clips played from 9/11 or see pictures of people jumping from 30 story windows, I go numb. I was hardly old enough to understand what was happening at the time, but it changed my life forever. It was the first time I realized resentment really did exist. When you’re nine hate is having to stand in a single file line or sit according to alphabetical order. Until 9/11, hate was trivial to me. After the attacks, I was a lot more conscious of cruel acts and unkind behavior. And so I was also more aware of how society had changed because of such radical acts of mercilessness.
I have lived in a post 9/11 world for the half of my life that I recall most. In this world, driving is easier than flying, news is 24-7 and being socially disconnected is socially unacceptable. In this world, it is us against them.
A year after the attacks, when US soldiers were invading Iraq, I remember my fourth grade teacher turning the news on to the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled from its place in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. Like most of the kids in my class, I believed this was a big step for America. I, like so many, wanted to see an end to the animosity that had caused so much grief, even as a fourth grader. The symbolism of that moment seemed like something was changing. If only capturing one person could stop the fighting and the wars and the terrorism.
Of course, there will always be a debate over who the true enemy is. Is it a geographical area? Is it an extreme version of Islam? Is it hate itself? Is it poverty or corrupt leaders? I’d like to think there is one answer and one solution, but the more I learn, the more muddled the answer becomes.
I don’t think I know more now than I did as a third or fourth grader.
Progress in containing terrorism in a post-9/11 world is assumed, but I think it’s more of a coping mechanism to deal with the tragic events of more than a decade ago. There is no restitution for the lives lost on 9/11 or the abridged freedom Americans now experience, but the capture of Osama bin Laden comes close.
When I first heard the news of his capture, I just remember the adrenaline rushing through my blood, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because we had eliminated the person who had ended my innocent view of the world, something that can’t be reclaimed. This was the man that seemed to be at the root of all it all, and there was no longer any way he could plan another person’s death or destroy another child’s naivety.
But honestly, Bin Laden’s capture didn’t change anything. What did it accomplish? We still live in an apprehensive society. We still have a huge military presence in the Middle East after the slaying of Bin Laden. Our fear of a terrorist attack hasn’t declined any. It was but a moment in time where Americans were reminded that our two worlds are still very much divided.
At age 20, I’m not sure I understand the attacks any better than I did when I was nine. I understand that people hate America, but I will never understand why. I understand the political and military strategies used to fight this “war on terror,” but I will never understand the difference it made.
September 11, 2001, is another tragic, infamous date for the United States of America. For many, innocence took its last breath the same day 2,819 people perished on the behalf of immorality.